Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Poor Having Fewer Babies

Few things have worried the bourgeoisie more than the excess birthrate among the poor.  It probably started with worry about all those starving children, but by the turn of the 20th century and Margaret Sanger and all it reduced down to the problem of the unfit.  That's what Planned Parenthood was all about, remember.  And it worked.  To this day Planned Parenthood maintains a heavy presence in lower-income neighborhoods.

The interesting backstory to this is told by Gregory Clark in A Farewell to Alms.  It turns out that before 1800 in England the poor had less surviving children than the rich, for obvious reasons.  Since the Gerald O'Hara rule then applied, that "land is the only thing that lasts," primogeniture dictated that the younger children of the rich, the landed warrior class, were kicked downwards into the professions.  And the younger children of the professions were downwardly mobile too.  And so on until we get to the landless laborer.

But that all changed with the industrial revolution.  The poor started having more children than the rich and the children of the poor moved up in the social scale: an upwardly mobile society.  Hence the Sangerite panic a century later.

But now, according to Ross Douthat in The New York Times, the poor and the immigrants are having less children:
American fertility plunged with the stock market in 2008, and it hasn’t recovered...

This time, the birthrate has fallen fastest among foreign-born Americans, and particularly among Hispanics, who saw huge amounts of wealth evaporate with the housing bust.
But here's the clincher:
Among the native-born working class, meanwhile, there was a retreat from child rearing even before the Great Recession hit. For Americans without college degrees, economic instability and a shortage of marriageable men seem to be furthering two trends in tandem: more women are having children out of wedlock, and fewer are raising families at all.
 So all the worriers about the survival of the unfit can go home.  The unfit are having less unfit babies.  Back to the good old days of the pre-1800 downwardly mobile society.  But I don't think this will end well.

You only have to read Charles Murray's latest book, Coming Apart, to see why.  Life is peachy-keen among the educated class: that's you and me.  We get married, we have children, we get divorced less than average.  But in the lower orders, things are not good.  Fifty percent of children are living with one parent, and working-class men are leaving the workforce.  All the statistics show that children of single parents present more pathologies than children of two-parent families.  My favorite is that children of single parents suffer six to 30 times more from physical abuse than the children living with their married biological parents.  And then there are the men.  Single men do worse than married man, much worse.

Says Instapundit: "Sooner or later, you run out of other people’s money. Something that can’t go on forever, won’t. Debt that can’t be repaid, won’t be. Promises that can’t be kept, won’t be."

But that misses the main point.  If the lower orders are doing worse then that amounts to the failure of the welfare state.  The whole point of the welfare state was to tax the rich in order to help the poor.

It goes deeper than that.  It means that the welfare state has turned out to be profoundly unjust.  Sooner or later the lower orders will bust out of their welfare-state ghetto with rage.  You'd like to think that they would focus their rage on the people that tempted them with welfare state goodies and in the process wrecked their families, their work ethic, and their prosperity.  But they probably won't.  They will probably go after the Mitt Romneys of the world, the uncaring capitalists that create the jobs in this world, on the prompting of some latter-day community organizer.

That would be a shame.  For all of us.

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